In Northwest Arkansas, children are hungry during the weekends as well as during the week, and on Fridays the Samaritan Community Center provides snackpacks to thousands of kids in order to lessen their weekend hunger.
When people think of Northwest Arkansas what often comes to mind is that a number of large corporations, such as Walmart/Sam’s Club, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport, have headquarters here. What is less known about the area is that it is also home to a large number of people, adults and children, living in poverty and challenged by food insecurity.
As noted by the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, “Everyday in Northwest Arkansas, there are nearly 100,000 hungry people.” Moreover, according to a study released last summer by Feeding America and as reported by 5News, “Arkansas children are going without food more than any other state in the country according to a new report.”
A recent advertisement in a local paper served as a reminder of the heartbreaking problem, and was timed to coincide with children going back to school for the spring semester. The advertisement read, in part:
Snackpacks for Kids needs your help. Snackpacks for Kids is a nutritional support program that provides healthy snack food during the school year to nearly 3,000 children at-risk for hunger or food insecurity on the weekends in Northwest Arkansas…this volunteer-driven program is a collaborative effort of the Samaritan Community Center and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.
In order to find out more about the Snackpacks for Kids program, Jen Boyle, Director of Operations at the Samaritan Community Center, was interviewed via e-mail.
With regard to the number of Snackpacks provided to children, Boyle said, “We send out 3,500 Snackpacks every week. Last year we sent out over 100,000 Snackpacks. We are on target to do that amount again during the 2010-2011 school year.”
The advertisement lists a number of drop-off locations for items needed for Snackpacks. The peanut free program seeks donations of granola bars, fruit snacks, juice boxes, graham/cheese crackers, cereal, and the like. Seventeen drop off locations are listed, which include the local newspaper, real estate agencies, a construction company, and a number of area banks.
This led me to ask Boyle questions about logistics. How do donated items get to the Samaritan Community Center? How do the Snackpacks get to the schools? Where are the Snackpacks packed?
Boyle replied, “Donors drop off the items from their drives and we pick some up, as well. For our rural areas – Gentry, Eureka Springs, Lincoln, etc. – the center staff makes a monthly delivery. For all others, volunteers make the deliveries on a weekly basis. Snackpacks are packed only in Rogers. At the current time, we are purchasing, packing and distributing the Snackpacks.”
The Samaritan Community Center’s website also provides details about the Snackpacks for Kids program. According to SCC, “A Snackpack is a plastic bag filled with 8-10 healthy week-end snacks. Over 3,100 children in 60 elementary schools, Head Starts or Early Childhood Centers receive a Snackpack every Friday during the school year. Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington Counties participate in the program. The center relies on the school counselors to determine which children are the most at risk for hunger on the week-ends."
Boyle was asked to provide any additional information about the program that she wanted readers to be aware of. “We purchase the majority of the snack items for the program,” said Boyle. “Most people think that the food is donated to us. Some of it is, and we are so thankful for the community support, but in order for the program to run on a weekly basis, we need 35,000 snack items every week. Each Snackpack runs the center appoximately $1.50.”
Asked when the Snackpacks for Kids program was established, and why, Boyle replied, “The program was established 5 years ago with 30 children. We know that if children are hungry during the week, they are hungry on the week-end, as well.” Further, in response to a question about food insecurity in the seemingly affluent Northwest corner of Arkansas, Boyle noted, "We have a great concentration of wealth in our area, but for the first time ever our district now surpasses the Delta Region for childhood hunger. A sad contradiction for sure."
For more information about the Snackpacks for Kids program, contact the Samaritan Community Center at 479-636-4198 or the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank at 479-872-8774.